The departments of France
( , ) and many of its
former colonies are administrative divisions
analogous to the districts of
. The 100 French departments are grouped into 22
and four overseas
, all of which have
identical legal status as integral parts of France. The departments
are subdivided into 342 arrondissements
, which in turn,
are divided into cantons
canton consists of a small number of communes
. In the overseas territories,
some of the communes play a role at departmental level.
1812: Departments at the maximum
extent of the First Empire
1843: France had 86 departments;
Alsace and Lorraine were in France, but not Nice and Savoy
Before the French Revolution
France accumulated territory gradually through the annexation of a
mosaic of more or less independent entities. By the close of the
it was organised
. During the
period of the Revolution, these were dissolved, partly in order to
weaken old loyalties. Departments were created on 4 March 1790 by
the National Constituent
to replace the provinces with what the Assembly deemed
a more rational structure. They were designed to deliberately break
up France's historical regions in an attempt to erase cultural
differences and build a more homogeneous nation. The old
nomenclature was carefully avoided in naming the new departments.
Most were named after an area's principal river or other physical
features. Even Paris was in the department of Seine.
The number of departments, initially 83, was increased to 130
by 1810 with
the territorial gains of the Republic and of the First French Empire
(see Provinces of the Netherlands
for the annexed Dutch departments). Following Napoleon
's defeats in 1814-1815, the
Congress of Vienna
France to its pre-war size; the number of departments was reduced
to 86, as three of the original departments had been split. In
1860, France acquired the County of
, which led to the creation
of three new departments. Two were added from the new Savoyard
territory, while the department of Alpes-Maritimes was created from Nice and a portion of the
The 89 departments were
given numbers based on their alphabetical order.
departments of Moselle,
Bas-Rhin, and most of Haut-Rhin were ceded to the German Empire in 1871, following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. A small part of
Haut-Rhin however remained French, and became known as the
When France regained the ceded
departments after World War I
Territoire de Belfort
was not reintegrated into Haut-Rhin.
In 1922, it became France's 90th department.
reorganisation of Greater Paris (1968)
and the division of Corsica (1975) added
six more departments, raising the total to ninety six.
there are the four overseas
departments of French
Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Réunion.
Population density in the departments
at the census of 1968 (people/km²)
The departmental seat of government is called the prefecture
chef-lieu de department
and is generally a city of some
importance roughly at the geographical centre of the department.
This was determined according to the time taken to travel on
horseback from the periphery of the department. The goal was for
the prefecture to be accessible by horseback from any town in the
department within 24 hours. The prefecture is not necessarily the largest
city in the department; for instance, in Saône-et-Loire department the capital is Mâcon, but the
largest city is Chalon-sur-Saône.
Departments are divided into one or more
capital of an arrondissement is called a subprefecture
) or chef-lieu
Each department is administered by a general council
, an assembly elected for six years by universal suffrage
, with the president of
the council as executive of the department. Before 1982, the
excutive of a department was the prefect
) who represents
the Government of France
each department and is appointed the President of France
. The prefect is
assisted by one or more sub-prefects (sous-préfet
in the subprefectures of the department.
The departments are further divided into communes
, governed by municipal councils
. As of 1999, there were
36,779 communes in France.
continental France (metropolitan
France, excluding Corsica), the
median land area of a department is , which
is two-and-a-half times the median land area of a ceremonial county of England
and slightly more than three-and-half times the median land area of
a county of the United
At the 2001 census, the median population of a
department in continental France was 511,012 inhabitants, which is
21 times the median population of a U.S. county, but less than
two-thirds of the median population of a ceremonial county of
England. Most of the departments have an area of between 4,000 and
8,000 km², and a population between 250,000 and 1 million.
largest in area is Gironde
(10,000 km²), while the smallest is the city of Paris
(105 km²). The most populous is Nord (2,550,000) and the least populous is Lozère (74,000).
The departments are numbered: their two-digit numbers appear in
, in INSEE
codes (including "social security numbers") and
. Initially, the numbers corresponded to the
alphabetical order of the names of the departments, but several
changed their names, so the correspondence became less exact.
no number 20, but 2A and 2B instead, for Corsica.
Corsican postal codes or addresses in both departments do still
start with 20, though. The two-digit code "98" is used by Monaco.
Together with the ISO 3166-1
country code FR, the numbers form the ISO 3166-2
country subdivision codes for the
metropolitan departments. The overseas departments get two letters
for the ISO 3166-2 code, e.g. 971 for Guadeloupe (see table
File:Départements-conseils.png|The political preferences of the
various departments in the cantonal elections of 2004.File:Conseils
généraux 2008.svg|The political preferences of the various
departments in the election of 2008.Key to the parties:
The removal of one or more levels of local government has been
discussed for some years; in particular, the option of removing the
departmental level. Frédéric
, spokesman for the UMP
, said in December 2008,
that the fusion of the departments with the regions was a matter to
be dealt with soon. This was soon refuted by Édouard Balladur
and Gérard Longuet
, members of the Committee
for the reform of local authorities, known as the Balladur
In January 2008, the "Commission for freeing French development",
known as the Attali Commission
recommended that the departmental level of government should be
eliminated within ten years.
Nevertheless, the "Committee for the reform of local authorities",
known as the Balladur
has not retained this proposition and does not
advocate the disappearance of the 100 departments, but simply
"favours the voluntary grouping of departments", which it suggests
also for the regions, with the aim of bring the number of the
latter down to fifteen. This committee advocates on the contrary,
the suppression of the cantons.
The debate on the reform of local authorities finds an echo in that
of retaining the departmental numbers in French vehicle
. Since April 2009, a departmental number
is still included but it is now one chosen by the vehicle owner and
not necessarily the place of residence. Also, the number of the
department is automatically accompanied on the number plate, by the
logo of the region in which the department lies.
Maps and tables
Former departments on the current territory of France
||Dates in existence
||Split into Rhône and Loire on 12
||Split into Golo and Liamone.
||Reunited with Liamone into Corse.
||Reunited with Golo into Corse.
||Formed from part of the Duchy of
Savoy, a territory of the Kingdom
of Piedmont-Sardinia and was restored to Piedmont-Sardinia
after Napoleon's defeat.
department corresponds approximately with the present French
departments Savoie and Haute-Savoie.
||Formed when the Republic of Geneva was annexed into the First French Empire. Léman became the
the Republic and Canton of
Geneva. The department corresponds with the present
Swiss canton and parts of the present French departments Ain and
||Meurthe ceased to exist following the
annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by the German Empire in 1871 and was not recreated after the province
was restored to France by the Treaty of Versailles.
January 1968, Seine was divided into four new departments:
Paris, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne, gaining territory from Seine-et-Oise in the process.
January 1968, Seine-et-Oise was divided into three new departments:
Yvelines, Val-d'Oise and Essonne, with some territory lost to Seine in the process.
15 September 1975, Corse was divided in two, to form Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse.
|| Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon was an
overseas department from 1976
until it was converted to an overseas collectivity on 11 June
Unlike the rest of French-controlled
Africa, Algeria was officially incorporated into France from 1848
until its independence in 1962
Former colonies of France
There are a number of former departments in territories conquered
by France during the French
that are now not part of France:
Notes for Table 7:
- Where a Napoleonic department was composed of parts from more
than one country, the nation-state containing the prefecture is
listed. Please expand this table to list all countries containing
significant parts of the department.
- Territories that were a part of Austrian Netherlands were also a part
Bishopric of Basel was a German Prince-Bishopric, not to be confused with the
adjacent Swiss Canton of Basel.
- The territories of the were lost to France, becoming the
Septinsular Republic, a nominal
protectorate of the , from 1800–07.
reverting to France as the Illyrian
Provinces, these territories then became a British protectorate, as the United States of the Ionian
- Maastricht was a condominium of the Dutch
Republic and the Bishopric of Liège.
- On 6 June 1805, as a result of the annexation of the Ligurian
Republic (the puppet successor state to the Republic
of Genoa), Tanaro was
abolished and its territory divided between the departments of
Marengo, Montenotte and Stura.
- Before becoming the department of Apennins, the Republic
of Genoa was converted to a puppet
successor state, the Ligurian
- Before becoming the department of Arno, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was converted
to a puppet successor state, the Kingdom
- Before becoming the department of Taro, the Duchy
of Parma and Piacenza was annexed to the Cisalpine Republic until 1802, the Italian
Republic, from 1802 until 1805 and the Kingdom of Italy, from 1805
- Rome was known as the until
- Before becoming the departments of Bouches-du-Rhin, Bouches-de-l'Escaut, Bouches-de-la-Meuse, Bouches-de-l'Yssel, Ems-Occidental, Frise, Yssel-Supérieur and Zuyderzée, these territories of the Dutch
Republic were converted to a puppet
successor state, the Batavian Republic (1795–1806), then those
territories that had not already been annexed (all except the first
two departments here), along with the Prussian County of East
Frisia, were converted to another puppet state, the Kingdom
- Before becoming the department of Simplon, the République des Sept Dizains was converted to a revolutionary République du
Valais (16 March 1798) which was swiftly incorporated (1 May 1798)
into the puppet Helvetic
Republic until 1802 when it became the independent Rhodanic
the months before Lippe was formed, the arrondissements of Rees and
Münster were part of Yssel-Supérieur, the
arrondissement of Steinfurt was part of Bouches-de-l'Yssel and the
arrondissement of Neuenhaus was part of Ems-Occidental.